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Fin, fur and feathers
Many of us think that the dark, dreary days of winter mean an end to fishing fun. Granted, there are not many choices out there for those who enjoy a fresh fish dinner. If you dont mind a little cold and a quick drive over the mountains, there is fishing to be had year-round. Gear up for some hardwater fishing.
Popular in the midwest, ice fishing is the ticket for the angler that still wants to get into some quality action. While the opportunity to do such angling is non-existent on this side of the Cascades, there are many waters on the other side that can provide you with an entry to this unique type of fishery.
Many people have watched the scenes from Grumpy Old Men and have that stereotype for the lunatics that fish in the bitter cold. Yes, the movie does depict the hard-core ice angler; one need not be that elaborate to fish through a hole in the ice. If you have the available funds, you can outfit yourself with special ice gear, or you can modify existing equipment to do the job.
Large shelters, or shanty, are not a requirement, but it does make the experience more comfortable. You do not need a permanent structure that is towed by vehicle, an old tent can work in a pinch, or a lean-to made from a tarp will work. Many of the mail-order companies have pre-made shelters mounted on plastic sleds. Some of the upscale models come with storage compartments and seats inside. If the weather is still, you can just park yourself on a five-gallon bucket, but for the inclement weather popular in these late months, a shelter with a propane heater (ensure adequate ventilation) will feel like heaven.
To get through the ice you need an auger. You can spend over $400 dollars on a souped-up gas model with trigger throttle or if your budget is limited, a hand powered auger will run you about $30. You will also need a long handled skimmer to remove ice that will form up on the hole. Ice in the hole will be the bane to your fishing line.
As for equipment there are many ice-fishing rod/reel combinations on the market. These are essentially an ultra-light reel mounted on a sensitive tipped, very short rod. Ice fishing rods generally are 18 to 20 inches long. You can use an ultra-light combo, but you will be seated further from the hole, and it may be hard to handle inside the shelter. The reason the rods are so short, is you have to bring the fish up through a small eight to ten inch hole, so proximity to it is essential. Spool your reel with the lightest pound test you can. Strikes will be the usual slam you are used to so sensitivity is critical. The slightest resistance from line or rod will usually end up in a missed strike.
Terminal tackle will depend on the fish being targeted. You can catch any species of fish through the ice, just scale back you tackle some. Many fish are on a feeding binge during the ice up period, but they do not want to waste a lot of energy for their next meal. Worms, maggots, and small grubs are favorite choices. There are tons of special ice fishing jigs on the market, many are considerably smaller than your normal fair.
So now that you are geared up you need to know where to go and what you may be able to catch. First, point your rig east. On the far east side of the state, Hog Canyon and Fourth of July Lakes near Spokane are winter-only fisheries. Trout over 14 inches are common out of these lakes. Also in the Spokane area, Sprague Lake should have excellent action for perch and crappie. A little closer to home, is Fish Lake near Wenatchee. This lake should provide decent action on trout. Over in Grant County, many of the seep lakes of Potholes Reservoir should freeze up and provide action on perch, crappie and possibly some walleyes. Before you venture out, check with locals to make sure the lake is solid enough for safe fishing.
For the non-boat owning angler, ice fishing makes parts of area lakes accessible that before were unreachable. Yeah, it is cold and you have to drive to get there, but it beats the alternative.